Sen. French accuses Parnell of health reform delay

Posted: Thursday, October 07, 2010

ANCHORAGE - State Sen. Hollis French has accused Gov. Sean Parnell of dragging his feet in implementing federal health care reform because of his personal opposition.

Michael Penn /  Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The Anchorage Democrat sent the Republican governor a letter Tuesday asking why he has not gone after federal money to implement changes that affect coverage for retirees, state employees and adult children up to age 26.

"Your opposition to the law should not result in damaging the health of your constituents, their pocketbooks, or the pocketbook of the state," French wrote to Parnell.

State officials told the Anchorage Daily News they are doing plenty to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"We are not dragging our feet. It's taking a lot of energy and effort by our team here to make sure that we're following the law," said Rachael Petro, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Administration.

French wants to know why state retirees won't be eligible for one of the new law's most popular benefits - health insurance for adult children up to age 26. And why can't current state employees get that coverage until July 1, many months after that feature could be offered under the new law?

The new benefit for young adults is intended to cover them under their parents' policies whether they are working, married or in school as long as they don't have a job that provides group health insurance. Current employees can get the coverage when the new state health plan year starts on July 1, Petro said. Until then, coverage for dependents generally ends when the child turns 19 unless they are in school or incapacitated.

Retiree-only health insurance plans aren't required to provide the extended benefit for adult children, and while the state could add the benefit, the retiree health trust has been underfunded as it is, Petro said.

In another example, Alaska didn't apply for a $1 million grant to help it set up a health exchange, envisioned as a Web-based marketplace for individuals and small businesses to shop for health care policies.

The exchanges don't have to be operational until 2014 and the state has plenty of time to set something up if it decides to run one, said Linda Hall, director of the state Division of Insurance. The federal law also provides for states to join together in regional exchanges or for the federal government to run an exchange in states without one.

Anyway, these insurance marketplaces will be targeted mainly at uninsured individuals mandated to buy health insurance under the law, Hall said. Alaska has joined some 20 other states in a lawsuit challenging that requirement, so it didn't make sense to get federal money to put it in place, she said.

The state also didn't seek a $1 million federal grant to help it review increases in insurance premiums. Hall said that the state already looks into complaints about rate increases and that under state requirements, only one company, Premera Blue Cross, currently must get approval from the state before raising its rates.

Hall said another federal grant flagged by French, to help educate consumers, wasn't worth applying for because it probably would have only generated $120,000, would have been expensive to implement, and isn't needed because the insurance division already has four consumer service representatives.

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